BPCA officer Grace, right, with some of the victims.
BPCA officer Grace, right, with some of the victims. (BPCA)

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A Christian church and the congregation within were brutally attacked by an estimated 20 armed Muslims during a worship service on Sunday, March 4, 2018. Scores of men, women and children were injured as the mob violently attacked worshippers with large sticks.

Members of Pakistani Gospel Assembly (PGA) have expressed great fear and anxiety as they come to terms with the trauma of a unexpected attack during a worship service at their church based at 77/4R in the district of Sahiwal. Pastor Cecil Daniel was leading the service at 9:30 a.m. but stopped proceedings to investigate loud noises at the back of the church. Pastor Cecil then went out into the courtyard and was shocked to see a large group of bearded Muslims trying to demolish the boundary wall of the church. Most of the church had followed him, and the women could be heard screaming in fear of what was happening before them.

The young men of the church rushed to the wall to try and protect their building but this only angered the mob, who were yielding sticks, axes and bricks and began beating the church congregants indiscriminately. The mob cared little about the age and the vulnerability of the victims; they were simply intent on inflicting pain. Woman have complained about being slapped in the face and their clothes being ripped by overzealous men, and children were slapped and kicked as they ran to the aid of their men. The men of the church suffered a more brutal attack that involved being hit with sticks and other items.

One church member used his mobile to call the local police and shouted out a warning to the Muslim combatants; however, this initially did little to curb their desire for violence. The men carried on with their assault but quickly fled once they heard a police siren.

On arrival the police took a note of the crime scene and eye witness statements from the wounded Christians, they then helped the bleeding victims get to Civil Hospital Sahiwal.

Once the young men had been taken to hospital, elders from the church and Pastor Cecil visited Noor Shah Police Station and described the whole incident, where a First Information Report (FIR) was registered.

The dispute is said to be a response to the recent installation of a church boundary wall on land bequeathed to the church via a Mr. George Masih. A jealous local Muslim man named Tufail Rao whose property is adjacent to the church land and has expressed a desire for the church space, planned the attack in association with the latest fast-growing extremist group in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLY). A mud church had been present on the land for over 20 years, however when the building was built in brick three years ago and part of a boundary wall had been installed last week this triggered local animosity.

The Station House Officer (SHO) Muhammad Asif and District Police Officer (DPO) Atif Akram were extremely cooperative with the Christian community. They immediately set about on an investigation, they managed to find all of the perpetrators of the assault and have arrested them. On Monday, March 5, a Panchayat (Meeting of community elders) was presided over by SHO Muhammed Asif during which Mr. George Masih brought his landownership papers to prove it belonged to him. The police confirmed publicly to the two opposing factions, both the Christian and Muslim community and confirmed that the land belonged to George Masih and that the church was permitted use of the land.

Police are aware that the walls of the church are damaged are will pursue compensation as part of their prosecution. Seven men involved in the attack are still to be arrested.

Pastor Cecil Daniel said: 

"The attack frightened our congregation; we did not expect such a reaction from Tufail Rao and his cronies. We knew he wanted our land and that he could not stand that it had been dedicated to God, but his attack was nevertheless a surprise.

"Our brave young men obstructed the bandits and, in the process, saved the rest of the congregation from attack. They fought without weapons, and may have broken bones and some bleeding, but they are heroes to us.

"God has been with us and created a listening ear amongst the local police, who have been remarkably supportive. They have provided such wonderful assistance from the outset, and I could not praise the officers at Noor Shah Police station anymore.

"A strong message has come of all this nasty business: All local Muslims now know that this land belongs to God and no one can take it away from Him." 

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: 

"In a rare case of justice, Pakistani Christians have thwarted a land mafia attack that would normally resulted in extreme fear and eventual loss of Christian land.

"By upholding the law, Noor Shah police have set a good precedent that is a small step towards a fairer Pakistan.

"By ensuring that the culprits are convicted and sentenced, the police can ensure that the impunity that exists for crimes such as these no longer has an image of impregnability." 

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